Thursday, 28 July 2011

Scientists try to convince gov't to turn Sg Ingei forests into wildlife sanctuary

Thursday, July 21, 2011

SCIENTISTS vying to convince the Brunei government to convert the 18,000 hectares of protected forests of remote Sungai Ingei into a wildlife sanctuary, are also suggesting for the establishment of a buffer area that can be zoned for ecotourism and other activities.

Leader of the two-year Sg Ingei Faunal Biodiversity Survey, Dr Joseph Charles of Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), told The Brunei Times recently that they wanted protection focused in the "core" area, where the group of scientists are working in the second phase of the project.

"But outside, from the Belait River and all that, that is the buffer zone to here," he said.

Some 14 to 15 kilometres from the nearest village of Melilas, scientists have been living in the pristine forests for weeks at a time, documenting species using camera traps to catch elusive mammals, mist nets for birds and bats, and using other scientific techniques.

They claim that they have made significant finds, but are withholding much of the data to avoid attracting poachers who might be among the recipients of the news, until the proper enforcement is in place.

"We have now discovered (that) Ingei is one of the rarest places in Brunei that has got wildlife like this. So you really want to protect it."

However, Dr Charles said the Forestry Department gazetted area of "protection forest" was not large enough for the animals found there to thrive and thus, the scientists were asking to make the proposed sanctuary "much bigger".

"This is a new gem that we have found and it's not really big at all. To be able to sustain wildlife over a long period, you need much bigger area."

Along with the enlargement of the gazetting of Ingei, the senior UBD Biology lecturer added that it should be complemented with a buffer zone.

"We will suggest where the boundary can be," Dr Charles, said adding that it will be up to the policy-makers to act on the scientists' recommendations.

"The uniqueness of Ingei can only be maintained if you have sufficient area around Ingei to protect what's within."

World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Special Adviser to the Heart of Borneo, Dato' Dr Mikaail Kavanagh said that the buffer zone from the proposed sanctuary's boundary to Kg Melilas.

"It requires proper zonation. There are areas of very special conservation sensitivity and we're right in one now," said the conservationist, while joining a VIP excursion on July 8 to visit the scientists at work in Ingei proper.

"But there are other areas which are of great value to tourists and so on," the former WWF Malaysia CEO added.

Dr Charles said that carrying out "controlled" ecotourism activities into the buffer zone would particularly benefit the locals from Melilas and Sukang, many of whom have been migrating from thelonghouse life to urban areas.

"We have to somehow maintain the people and the culture, by making them produce (and) sell handicraft, what they were doing. They can bring in tourists, and stay in Melilas," he said.

Some of the villagers who have remained have been helping out the scientists with the wildlife survey, acting as local expert guides in tracking animals, as well as building the UBD-led project'sbasecamp in Ingei.

Downriver of Ingei, at Sungai Topi, was a camp owned by two of the Melilas locals, who occasionally use the cabins they built there to fish and hunt for their own needs. They have rented theTopi camp for the use of the scientists, as well as a group of Japanese tourists.

This type of activity was encouraged by the scientists, but in a controlled manner.

Dr Charles said that considering ecotourism's potential for the locals, it was in their interest to preserve the environment.

"What does a tourist want to see? He wants to go for a night-walk and see a slow loris in the forest at night. So don't knock the forest down, maintain it. Tourists come, you can show them every night. Charge them. All that can be done over there (in buffer zone)."

The Brunei Times

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